Today marks an important and historic point in the erosion of personal privacy as the Bush Administration appears poised to achieve Senate approval of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that aided in spying on Americans illegally without warrants. First exposed in the New York Times on December 16, 2005 by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the program consists of optical "splitters" attached to primary trunk communications lines that allow the government to "vacuum" up literally every bit of information being transmitted through the line, whether it is voice or data.
As Senator Chris Dodd pointed out in his impassioned, two and a half hour speech on the Senate floor last night, this battle for amnesty for the telecommunications companies that worked with the government on this program is in large part being carried out to protect those in the Bush Administration who conceived and authorized this blatantly illegal and unconstitutional program. In fact, the original version of the amnesty language was so wide as to include amnesty for those in government who committed crimes in establishing the program. Some solace can be taken from the fact that the current version of the amnesty language pertains only to the telecommunications companies and is silent on immunity for government officials.
It will be important, even if the battle over prosecution of the telecommunications companies is lost, to continue to push for a full investigation leading to prosecution of those responsible for the planning and implementation of what can only be described as the most egregious invasion of privacy in the history of our country. Given the example of George W. Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence, it is necessary to maintain vigilance against outright pardons on this matter.
It also is essential to begin the framing of the issue. Because he is almost certain to be a suspect in any investigation of these crimes, it is important to point out that it would be inappropriate for Bush to issue any pardons for them. Such a pardon could be grounds for further charges of obstruction of justice on his part, in my opinion.